Andrew B. Kipnis
From Village to City
Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat
University of California Press 2016
New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network August 8, 2018 Ed Pulford
“When I first went to Zouping in 1988,” writes Andrew B. Kipnis in From Village to City: Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat (University of California Press, 2016), “I could not have imagined what the place would be like by 2008” (p. 25). This is scarcely surprising, for over that period the place grew from a quiet county town of 30,000 people to a bustling urban centre of 300,000. All of this came amidst a burst of economic growth and urbanisation in China which have been defining global events for our time. Yet whilst one hears a lot about how the PRC’s headlong rush to urban modernity has affected headline-grabbing metropolises like Shanghai or Beijing, or the increasingly empty Chinese countryside, the experience of China’s many thousands of in-between locations is not so often discussed (p. 18).
Andrew Kipnis’ book is a vital addition to our understanding of what has been going on in these arguably much more representative places. Presented to us by an anthropologist with three decades of longitudinal perspective from a single location, the county-level town of Zouping in Shandong province, the book at once serves as a rich ethnography of life there since the late-1980s and as a compelling theoretical argument for how we might understand the idea of ‘modernisation’ in general. Richly supplementing his text from his own photographic archive, Kipnis refuses to over-simplify this compound and multifaceted process. Yet despite dealing with a great many entangled aspects of social transformation, From Village to City is also a really absorbing read from start to finish. Amidst key academic insights, the human stories told here are at turns astonishing, entertaining and, as one would expect from someone with as longstanding a connection to a single place as Kipnis has, deeply personal.